Koala survives photo dispute

CALIFORNIA ‘ Editors at The Koala, an underground humor publication at the University of California at San Diego have escaped student disciplinary charges in June for their coverage of a meeting on campus.

The editors faced punishment that some say amounted to censorship. After two Koala members and a freelance photographer covered a meeting of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Azatlan (MEChA), a Chicano-rights group, they were charged with disturbing the gathering.

Although the campus judicial board ruled that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the charges, The Koala filed a lawsuit against the university on June 5, seeking $1 million in damages for repeated attempts to silence the humor publication.

‘The problems we are having with the university have not disappeared and we are hopeful that our lawsuit may help remedy some of the causes of these issues,’ Koala editor George Liddle said.

In its decision, the board denied that the proceedings had anything to do with the paper’s satirical nature.

‘The student complaint and hearing focused exclusively on alleged disruptive behavior by an alleged Koala staff member,’ the university said in a press release. ‘Neither the complaint nor the hearing concerned The Koala‘s editorial content.’

The controversy began when the three journalists attended a May 19 meeting of MEChA and took a photo of member Ernesto Martinez after being asked not to photograph the gathering.

After a complaint from Martinez, the university brought the three students up on charges of disturbing the meeting.

At the May 22 judicial hearing, The Koala asked that the board’s proceedings be opened to the public. University code prohibits open hearings without the consent of both parties involved. The university objected, but citing the University of California system’s less stringent requirements to open the proceedings, the board’s chairwoman ruled in the paper’s favor.

Koala editors presented a limited defense after university representative Cara Silbaugh walked out of the hearing.

‘Nicholas Aguilar, director of student policy and judicial affairs at the university, nullified the hearing. The disciplinary action was rescheduled for June 5 behind closed doors, despite the objections of the campus newspaper, the Guardian.